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Window on State Government - Susan Combs Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

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Part 1: FAST Executive Summary

Reviewer Comments

Here is what our outside reviewers are saying about FAST:

Carolyn Bacon Dickson
Executive Director, O’Donnell Foundation
November 29, 2010

“FAST is excellent. Its potential for improving public education in Texas is huge.”

“Improving our public schools is the issue of our time. In Texas, we are fortunate the new FAST online web tool — the first of its kind in the nation — is providing the timely and accurate data we need to do what’s best for Texas public schools and its students.”

“FAST lets Texans know how well our schools are performing, and what to do to strengthen them. It provides our teachers with tools to better understand how each student learns; and it enables every family to follow the academic progress of their children. FAST is a powerful data-driven approach toward helping every school to attain high quality and helping every young person to learn.”

Carolyn Dickson is the executive director of the O’Donnell Foundation in Dallas, an organization supporting quality education, especially in science and engineering. Ms. Dickson served as Chief of Staff to Texas Senator John Tower and in 1989 was appointed a member of the White House Education Policy and Advisory Council. She also served as chairman of the Education Committee on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In Texas, she served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and in 2003-04 she was appointed to the Texas Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance. Ms. Dickson is currently on the boards of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, Laying the Foundation, Inc. of Dallas and Clinical Trials Network of Texas. ”

Larry R. Faulkner, Ph.D.
President, Houston Endowment and
President Emeritus, The University of Texas at Austin
December 1, 2010

“Comptroller Combs and her staff have made a tremendous effort in response to the Legislature’s charge. They have carried out a thoughtful analysis of the available data and now offer effective, accessible presentation of the results. This is excellent work by a public agency toward an important public interest.”

Dr. Larry R. Faulkner is the president of the Houston Endowment, a foundation that supports charitable organizations and institutions. He served as president of The University of Texas at Austin from 1998 to 2006, following positions on the chemistry faculties of Harvard University, the University of Illinois – where he was dean and provost as well – and the University of Texas. Dr. Faulkner also is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves on the boards of Exxon Mobil and Temple Inland.

Peter T. Flawn, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, The University of Texas at Austin
November 18, 2010

“The Executive Summary is the clearest and most succinct exposition of public education in Texas that I have ever read. I congratulate you and your staff on how well you have researched, analyzed, and presented a complex and difficult set of problems. It was a most challenging assignment.”

Dr. Peter T. Flawn began his career at The University of Texas at Austin in 1960 as a geology professor and the director of UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology. In 1970 he became Vice President for Academic Affairs, then Executive Vice President in 1972, served as president of the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1973 – 1978, and returned to Austin to become president of the university there in 1979. He retired from the presidency in 1985, when he was named president emeritus, and he served as interim president of the university in 1997 – 1998. He has received numerous awards and honors, including election to the National Academy of Engineering, and currently serves on the boards of Hester Capital Management, LLC and Signature Science, LLC.

Eric Hanushek, Ph.D.
Hoover Institution. Stanford University
November 30, 2010

“The FAST system is a national innovation that should be copied by other states. This analysis is the first time that value-added data for schools has been combined with spending information. As with any first time efforts, it will undoubtedly need some refinements over time. But the analysis is looking at just the right thing — what we are getting for spending on schools and how that differs across the state.”

Dr. Eric Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He has been a leader in the development of economic analysis of educational issues, and his work on efficiency, resource usage, and economic outcomes of schools has frequently entered into the design of both national and international educational policy. His research spans such diverse areas as the impacts of teacher quality, high stakes accountability, and class size reduction on achievement and the role of cognitive skills in international growth and development. His pioneering analysis measuring teacher quality through student achievement forms the basis for current research into the value-added of teachers and schools.

Hanushek is chairman of the Executive Committee for the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He currently serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the National Board for Education Sciences and is the area coordinator for Economics of Education of the CESifo Research Network.

Hanushek previously held academic appointments at the University of Rochester, Yale University, and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Government service includes being Deputy Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Senior Staff Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, and Senior Economist at the Cost of Living Council. He has been appointed to a variety of policy commissions including the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence in California and the Governor’s Commission for a College Ready Texas. He is a member of the National Academy of Education and the International Academy of Education along with being a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists and the American Education Research Association. He was awarded the Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in 2004.

Hanushek is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and completed his Ph.D. in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965-1974.

Tom Luce
CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative
November 29, 2010

“Thank you so much for sharing with me the superb work that has been done by the team and put together by the Comptroller. This will be a valuable tool for every policy maker, parent, taxpayer and all who are interested in the future of the State of Texas.”

Tom Luce, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. He was a founding partner of the nationally recognized law firm of Hughes & Luce, LLP until he retired from the firm in 1997 to devote himself to education reform full time. Mr. Luce served as a member of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and was a co-founder of the National Center for Educational Accountability. He also founded Communities Just for the Kids and served as its Chairman until 2005. In 1995 Mr. Luce wrote Now or Never – How We Can Save Our Public Schools, a book that defined his educational philosophy and outlined a preliminary plan for educational reform that called for broader support for public education. His second book, Do What Works, was published in December 2004.

Commissioner Robert Scott
Texas Education Agency
December 1, 2010

“Comptroller Combs was given the difficult charge of analyzing both the academic progress and spending at Texas’ school districts and campuses. The Comptroller’s FAST web tool is flexible and considerate of the size and diversity of the Texas public school system. By providing easily accessible comparisons of academic and financial performance of peer school districts and campuses, school administrators will have an additional resource as they work to maximize efficiencies and meet higher state standards in challenging financial times.”

Commissioner of Education Robert Scott heads the Texas Education Agency, which is charged with overseeing the state’s 1,235 school districts and charter schools. Prior to his appointment in 2007, Mr. Scott had been providing leadership to the agency by twice serving as interim commissioner, and through four years as chief deputy commissioner responsible for the agency’s daily operations. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and UT Law School, Mr. Scott had served as education policy advisor to Governor Perry as well as previous commissioners. He is considered a reformer, especially in secondary education, and an advocate for early childhood education and accountability standards.

Margaret Spellings
Former U.S. Secretary of Education and
CEO of Margaret Spellings & Co.
November 30, 2010

“Texas is once again leading the way on the key education reform of the day. While our reform efforts at the state and national level have rightly focused on student achievement, we must now look at how well we serve students in the context of how well we use precious tax dollars. This project (or whatever you are calling it) will help spur needed improvements in the use of resources so that they can be best deployed to improve education for all Texas students”.

Margaret Spellings was appointed Secretary of Education in 2004 by President George W. Bush, for whom she had previously acted as Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. She was thus greatly involved with both the creation and the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, with which she is closely associated. Ms. Spellings began her involvement with education issues as associate executive director for the Texas Association of School Boards and by working on an educational reform commission for Texas Governor William Clements. She was the political director for Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign, and became a senior advisor to Bush during his time as governor. She currently heads Margaret Spellings & Company, an education consulting firm in Washington, DC.

Peer Review Panel on Financial and Efficiency Measures

William D. Duncombe, Ph.D.
Syracuse University
June 14, 2010

“I particularly like the fact that you did cross checking of your results with cost function estimates and with random scores. I also thought the use of MSE to check comparability of peer groups was a nice intuitive approach to checking your results. I think you have developed a reasonable approach given the objectives of the project.”

William D. Duncombe is Professor of Public Administration and Senior Research Associate in the Center for Policy Research, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He is also the Associate Director of the Education Finance and Accountability Program at Syracuse University.

Professor Duncombe’s research specialties include state and local public finance with a particular focus on education finance. His work has appeared in numerous journals in public administration, education policy and finance, and economics. He has worked on education finance projects in several states including California, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, and New York. He presently is a member of advisory boards supporting the New York State Education Department and the New York Office of the State Comptroller. He presently serves on the editorial board of several journals in public finance and education finance.

Professor Duncombe was the recipient in 2006 of the Leslie A Whittington Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration and the 2009 Aaron B. Wildavsky Award for lifetime scholarly achievement from the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management. Professor Duncombe received his B.A. in economics from the University of Washington in 1979 and M.A. and Ph.D. in Public Administration from Syracuse University in 1989.

Shawna Grosskopf, Ph.D.
Oregon State University
June 15, 2010

“The revised draft was very helpful, very clear and useful in providing some ‘robustness’ with the addition of the cost function comparisons and detailed plots of MSE for the various factors for different district and campus types. I was much more comfortable with the propensity score matching approach after reading this revised document. I am convinced that the peer groups will in fact be ‘fiscal peers’ and that these groups will be useful for the ongoing analysis — and that school districts and school campuses will be getting a ‘fair shake.’”

Shawna Grosskopf is a professor of economics at Oregon State University. Her research interests are in public economics and performance measurement. Her recent research has included work on the relative performance of charter schools, using directional distance functions to model and measure productivity in the presence of environmental byproducts, and assessing performance in health care. She is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Productivity Analysis and is on the Editorial Board of Health Care Management Science and has published over 140 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 6 books. She is included in the ISI Web of Knowledge 250 most highly cited scholars in economics and finance in 2005, and Who’s Who in Economics (2002). She has received grants from U.S.E.P.A., U.S.D.A., New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the Ford Foundation.

Jennifer Imazeki, Ph.D.
San Diego State University
June 17, 2010

“I think the analysis here is excellent and Lori has done a great job of balancing analytic objectivity with the realities of policymaking. I particularly liked the comparison of the mean-squared errors from the different approaches; if the whole point is to find schools and districts that are most ‘similar’ along these dimensions, that makes a convincing case for the propensity score method.”

Jennifer Imazeki is an Associate Professor of Economics at San Diego State University where she teaches courses in applied microeconomics and writing for economics majors. She also developed and teaches a course for students getting their Single-Subject Teaching Credential in Social Science. She has a B.A. from Pomona College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all in economics. Her research focuses on the economics of K-12 education, including school finance reform, adequacy, and teacher labor markets.

Dr. Imazeki has participated in the AEA’s Teaching Innovations Program, contributing to the module on large enrollment courses. She also served on the Review Team for the California State University system’s Transforming Course Design project in Microeconomics. The purpose of that project was to develop cost-effective ways for faculty to improve retention and learning in the Principles course and the team focused largely on interactive techniques for larger classes.

Andrew Reschovsky, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin
June 18, 2010

“Their basic methodology… to calculate propensity scores for each district and school and then to define as fiscal peers those districts or schools with similar propensity scores… is sound and has been well executed.”

“My confidence in the methodology was increased by their decision to identify fiscal peers with an alternative methodology based on the estimation of cost functions… I am convinced that their propensity score methodology does a good job of defining fiscal peers.”

Andrew Reschovsky is Professor of Public Affairs and Applied Economics. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His research focuses on tax policy and intergovernmental fiscal relations. His current research projects involve the design and evaluation of tax policies to increase the rate of home ownership for low-income and minority households, a study of the impact of property taxes on the mobility of elderly homeowners, and the measurement of fiscal disparities in selected U.S. metropolitan areas. He is also advising the government of South Africa on the design of grants for the financing of education and on the fiscal reform of local governments.

Professor Reschovsky has worked in the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Treasury and at the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. He has conducted research for several state and local governments in the United States. His most recent articles have appeared in a number of academic journals, including Public Finance Review, Public Budgeting and Finance, National Tax Journal, Comparative Education Review, and Education Finance & Policy. He has contributed chapters to several books, including The Effectiveness of Student Aid Policies: What the Research Tells Us, Restructuring Local Government Finance in Developing Countries: Lessons from South Africa, Helping Children Left Behind: State Aid and the Pursuit of Educational Equity, and The Theory and Practice of Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfers. He received his doctorate in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Amy Schwartz, Ph.D.
New York University
June 23, 2010

“I like it! The new use of propensity score matching within strata is very compelling and the list of cost factors seems right now. In the end, the methodology employed here represents an appropriate application of modern, accepted methods that have been applied in a broad range of settings… Nicely done!”

Amy Ellen Schwartz is a renowned scholar in public policy and economics, is the research advisor for the Institute for Education and Social Policy. Professor Schwartz holds a dual appointment in Steinhardt’s Humanities and Social Sciences department and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Her research is primarily in applied econometrics, focusing on state and local governments and urban policy, particularly education policy and finance. Her ongoing projects in K-12 education focus on the education of immigrant children in New York City; the disparities in test scores across racial and ethnic groups; and the measurement of school performance and the distinction between ‘good schools’ and ‘good students.’ A current project in housing research investigates the impact of subsidized housing on property values and economic development.

Schwartz’ work in higher education focuses on the cost of college, including both four year and two year colleges in the U.S. Previous research has evaluated the role of public infrastructure in determining state output, growth, and employment, and other issues in public finance. Professor Schwartz’s research has been published in the American Economic Review, The Journal of Human Resources, National Tax Journal, and Journal of Public Economics.

Peer Review Panel on Academic Measures

Michael Podgursky, Ph.D.
University of Missouri
June 6, 2010

“I see no obvious problems with this approach. It seems quite reasonable and consistent with the research literature… this seems to be a good approach to modeling these data.”

Michael Podgursky is the Middlebush Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri – Columbia, where he served as department chair from 1995-2005. He is a member of the Strategic Planning Group and leads the work of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) Missouri team. Dr. Podgursky serves on the board of editors of Education Finance and Policy, Peabody Journal of Education, and the advisory boards for the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Research Council, the National Center for Teacher Quality, American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence, WESTAT and Mathematica Policy Research.

Dr. Podgursky has published many articles and reports on teacher compensation, teacher quality, and teacher labor markets, and co-authored a book, Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality. His research has been supported by federal and state agencies as well as several private foundations. He is also a co-investigator at the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.

Prior to the University of Missouri-Columbia, Dr. Podgursky was on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1980-1995). He is a member of the American Economic Association, American Education Finance Association, and the Society of Labor Economists. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Steven Rivkin, Ph. D.
Amherst College
September 13, 2010

“The many factors that influence cognitive growth over extended periods of time… complicates efforts to measure the effects of teachers, schools and districts on educational outcomes. Value-added models produce estimates that measure their respective contributions to academic achievement by controlling for other determinants of academic achievement. Given the substantial differences in student demographics among schools and districts I believe these estimates facilitate more accurate and fairer comparisons and provide better information for use in efforts to improve instructional effectiveness…”

Steven G. Rivkin is Professor of Economics and Chair of the Department of Economics at Amherst College. He is also Associate Director of Research with the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas, a Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and is a part of the CALDER Texas team. He was also a post-doctoral fellow in the National Science Foundation urban poverty program at Northwestern University.

The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) informs education policy development through analyses of data on individual students and teachers over time. The Center’s research focuses most centrally on how teacher policies, governance policies, and social and economic community conditions affect outcomes for teachers and their students. CALDER is a partnership of researchers from the Urban Institute, Duke University, Stanford University, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Florida, the University of Washington, and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Dr. Rivkin’s main areas of interest are the economics and sociology of education. He has written on a wide range of issues including teacher quality and labor markets, school desegregation, class size, special education, charter schools, student mobility, and school spending.

He has authored and co-authored numerous publications on factors related to student outcomes, including two forthcoming papers – one in the Review of Economics and Statistics on student absences and one in the Journal of Human Resources on teacher quality-class size tradeoffs. Dr. Rivkin received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).